With the fair only six weeks away, organizers knew they needed to do something big for the community that missed out on being together during COVID-19.
Tuesday evening, the Steele County Free Fair announced that it will provide the first of three grandstand concerts during fair week free to the public. Fair Board Vice President Wayne Steele said it was an easy decision considering all everyone has gone through over the last 18 months.
“We believe that saying thank you is important — I know that I wish I could say thank you to every single nurse and front-line hero out there,” Steele said. “I feel like this is my chance to do that — it is our chance to do that.”
Dubbing the Wednesday, Aug. 18 concert “Celebrate Our Front Line Heroes,” the event will be free for everyone while also serving as a free-will donation fundraiser for two powerhouse Steele County nonprofits: Community Pathways of Steele County and the United Way of Steele County. Personnel and volunteers from those two organizations will be staffing the grandstand show that night, which will feature Jason Pritchett, an up and coming country music star that was featured as a finalist on the second season of America’s Got Talent.
According to Fair Manager Scott Kozelka, Pritchett was all for the idea of making his concert free.
“He was one his way to coach a little league game, but he answered the phone and was instantly onboard,” Kozelka said. “He is a high-energy performer and will be a great way to recognize all of the front-line workers throughout the evening.”
Owatonna native and singer-songwriter Travis Thamert will open for Pritchett.
While the mind commonly jumps to those working in the health care industry when they hear “front line worker,” fair organizers insist it is to recognize every single essential worker or anyone impacted by the pandemic. Jim Abbe, who sits on the grandstand committee for the fair, said the night will set the tone for everything they want the fair to be in 2021.
“It’s about the clerks at the grocery stores and the people who checked in on each other’s mental health,” Abbe said. “It is for all of the people in Steele County and our guests.”
For UWSC, President Annette Duncan said it was easy to support the project regardless of having an opportunity to raise additional funds.
“This has been a continuous conversation since last year,” Duncan said about finding a way to thank those on the front line during COVID-19. “There are so many people who gave back to ensure that we could have as normal of a day-to-day life as possible, so naturally we want that opportunity to thank them.”
Duncan said it makes sense that the big community act of gratitude would be done at the fair considering the longstanding reputation of the SCFF providing opportunities for nonprofits in the area. Each year, roughly 30 local nonprofits benefit financially from the fair, some of which include money raised during the week-long event as an annual budget line item.
Community Pathways Co-Executive Director Nancy Ness said that she didn’t see this opportunity coming, but that Community Pathways was quick to jump on board. Throughout the pandemic, the Steele County fairgrounds has served as a staging zoning for several “truck-to-trunk” events hosted by Community Pathways. At those events, hundreds upon hundreds of vehicles line up to receive free boxes of food.
“It has been a long 18 months, so to have this free for everyone is such a gift,” Ness said. “We are so excited to be given this ability and opportunity to say thank you.”
While all the details of the night are still being ironed out, Steele said they are hoping to provide drawings throughout the evening with prizes that range from grandstand tickets for the remainder of fair week to monetary prizes. Abbe said they are also hoping to gather stories from different front-line workers or others impacted by the pandemic that they are hoping to share throughout the day and night.
The concert is sponsored by Hy-Vee, Camping World, Townsquare Media Group and Godfather's Pizza.